One of the things I love most about being “on the other side of 35″ is the bolder, less apologetic outlook one has on life. Don’t get me wrong – there are regrets. Regrets about mistakes made and the road not traveled. As I inch closer to 40 there is a lot less time wasted on “what if” and “if only.” There is a lot more time spent enjoying the journey.
“For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin, real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” -Alfred D. Souza
I’d love to say that it was simply maturity and the passing of time or even some dramatic life event that taught me to just enjoy the ride. But, honestly it was a bumper sticker on the back of someone’s Volkswagen that made me rethink my viewpoint. “Happiness is a journey…not a destination.”
While I have a general rule against forming a life philosophy around a bumper sticker, this one simply fit. It made me think about my approach to life. I’d lived most of my life in expectation or regret of one thing or another.
When I was sixteen I couldn’t wait until I turned eighteen. When I was eighteen I couldn’t wait until I was 21. I looked forward to 25, but reluctantly turned 30.
I never really enjoyed the time I spent at an ideal weight because I was too focused on trying to get down to the next size. There are the years of missing family photos because I was waiting until I lost “ten more pounds” or my hair was just right.
During all those years of anticipating the things I didn’t have I missed out on opportunities to enjoy what I did have. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely enjoyed myself over the past 39 years. There are tons of memories that make me smile or laugh until I cry. Yet, looking back on life with my newfound, bumper-sticker life philosophy I can clearly see those missed opportunities for unabashed joy and satisfaction.
I’d love to say that reading that bumper sticker instantly changed my life. However, bad habits (and bad philosophies) are had to break. It took time for me to gradually change my perception of life. To understand that it is important to have goals and dreams. Yet, the journey to achieving them can be immensely enjoyable whether we achieve those goals or not.
So set lofty goals for yourself. Don’t be afraid to chase dreams that others see as impossible, unattainable. But don’t forget to enjoy everything that happens along the way.
Celebrate every small accomplishment. Learn the lessons offered by each failure. Show off the bumps and bruises you pick up along the way like badges of honor and courage. Don’t let the idiosyncrasies of the people you love prevent you from cherishing the things about them that are truly beautiful. Forgive yourself for your mistakes. Move forward with wisdom and discernment.
Find joy everyday. A great book. Doing five more minutes on the elliptical trainer than you did the week before. An unexpected gesture of affection from your husband. A juicy kiss from your infant daughter. A nuzzle from your perceptive beagle after a hard day at work. The funny story your best friend tells you that brings you back from the edge of sanity. An unusually warm day in winter. The perfect parking spot when you’ve only got five minutes to get to your doctor’s appointment.
Joy can be just as wonderful in bite-size increments as it is when our cup is overflowing with it. So don’t forget to enjoy the journey.